Viktoria Plzen came into the Bernabeu tonight with little hope of advancing past the group stage of the Champions League — just one point to their name and a negative-five goal differential after two games. Maybe they had hoped they caught a wounded Real Madrid at the right time, but what they got was a Real Madrid side who controlled possession and earned a much needed win and confidence jolt. (I wrote this before the nervy ending.)
And Real Madrid really needed this. They needed a game where they can score first and use their possession as a tool to frustrate their opponent and find more openings, and they needed a bounce-back match from Benzema. This was more of the routine win from Real Madrid we’ve been used to (on a European scale, anyway).
Lopetegui slotted Lucas Vazquez in at the right-back position over Odriozola, which was surprising, given Odriozola was in the squad. Vazquez was a mixed-bag, but mostly good. Anything Plzen conjured offensively in the first half came from a Lucas gamble where he hedged off his man, and was caught out. But offensively, Vazquez was great. His cross to Benzema for the opener was perfect, and he provided dangerous overloads throughout the match. (The full-backs, in general, were both playing as wingers, essentially, given Plzen’s deep block. It’s also interesting that most of Real Madrid’s attack was coming through Vazquez, rather than Marcelo. That was, until Marcelo turned into beast-mode in the second half after being a bit shaky with his passing to start. At the end of the first half, Marcelo did have a gorgeous cross-field switch to Benzema which had me let out a little moan press row.)
The two who combined for the team’s opening goal, Vazquez and Benzema, were two of the biggest talking points at half-time. Benzema was just great overall. HIs movement off the ball was constant, he was creating a lot from the left-hand side and combining well with Marcelo. He could’ve (and probably should’ve) passed to a wide-open Bale in the first half after some great work on the left, but I haven’t seen the replay yet to confirm, and he may have seen Bale’s run late, as Bale himself made the run later than he could’ve.
Bale, who roamed a lot horizontally and looked to get on the end of through-balls, struggled in the first half. He wasn’t getting on the end of those Kroos passes like he did successfully against Roma (a lot of it down to bad luck, to be sure), and couldn’t conjure a shot or key pass in the first 45 minutes. Modric would ask him to move without the ball and provide an outlet for Vazquez on the right, but the Welshman was a bit too passive. This is something he improved on in the second half. He just needs to get his shooting touch back.
This game got uncomfortable in the second half late, when Patrik Hrosovsky scored in the 78th minute, and Plzen started to throw numbers forward. To really set the nerves in motion, Marcelo went down injured shortly after Lopetegui made his third sub, and Real Madrid finished the game with 10 men. Real didn’t have their backs pinned, by any means, but the way the match ended was worrying, and it left a lot of fans whistling by the time it was done.
Bullet points from Kiyan’s notebook
- One thing I didn’t mention about Bale and Benzema, was their encouraging pressing throughout, when Viktoria had the ball deep. They forced goalkeeper Alex Hruska into a few giveaways — one of them coming within 15 seconds, and two others generating great opportunities as the ball fell right to Isco high up the pitch.
- We saw a Fede Valverde cameo tonight, and it was really encouraging. He picked the ball up quickly when you might expect him to be cold. He was thinking vertically every time he touched the ball, and one of his first involvements was in the build-up to Marcelo’s goal:
Fede also had three incredible defensive interventions.
- Real Madrid played a high defensive line, and while Plzen didn’t have much of the ball, nor did they create a ton of chances, their counter-attacks were dangerous. Marcelo and Vazquez weren’t great defensively. There are two players to be thankful for, here: 1) Fede, which we’ve already discussed; and 2) Nacho, had had two absolutely crucial defensive interventions. One late, and one in the first half when he covered for Ramos on the counter.
- Three points. In a period where we’re just crying for results and not excuses, this at least fits that criteria. On to the Camp Nou (hopefully with Marcelo.)